Students have multiple ways to serve elderly

Kalyn Hayslett, Editor-in-Chief

Whether it is delivering books to nursing homes or making crafts with seniors, students have a chance to volunteer in five different activities focused on helping senior citizens throughout the month of February.

Crystal Brown, assistant director of civic engagement and volunteerism, said the office noticed students’ interest in helping senior citizens grow and wanted to offer as many service projects to meet their need.

“Over the years the interest of our student body changes. As an example, four years ago when I started, we had a huge interest in conservation work, and now the culture’s changing and that has decreased a little bit, but now we see an increase in seniors,” Brown said.

The volunteerism office partnered with the Charleston Carnegie Library for the Grandma’s Got Gmail and the book delivery program.

Friday at 2 p.m. kick-starts the Grandma’s Got Gmail service, where students spend an hour helping senior citizens fix any technological problems they have ranging from cell phones, Kindles or social media, Brown said.

Brown said knowing how to operate Kindles and Facebook are popular issues for seniors, but students do not need to know how to operate all devices. As long as they can offer some help and are flexible, they can participate by emailing [email protected].

“Student volunteers do not have to have knowledge on all of those areas; if they’re just savvy with Facebook and iPads, great, then we will partner them with seniors who need that specific skill set,” Brown said.

There is no set number of volunteers needed, but if more volunteers sign up, it will help evenly distribute the work and guarantee all of the seniors receive help, Brown said.

“It’s just nice to have that pool of student volunteers. As seniors need assistance, we can call and say, ‘hey are you available Friday afternoon or Tuesday evening to come for an hour to help,’” Brown said.

The volunteers do not need to bring any devices to help; the seniors will bring their own devices or use ones that belong to the library.

The volunteerism office did not start the program, but as more students and seniors enjoyed it, the office took it over and continued it throughout the years, Brown said.

“I believe it was a grant partnership between Charleston and Eastern Illinois University Library, and from there they reached out to us for volunteers for it,” Brown said. “There was a need and the students enjoyed it, so we just continued that partnership on our own with the Charleston Carnegie Library.”

“They are a fun group to work with; they usually have funny stories to tell,” Brown said.

Students can also help deliver and pick up library books for seniors who may not have transportation or are not physically able to make it to the Charleston Carnegie Library.

The book delivery happens once a month. Students can participate on February 21.

Students can also help make crafts with senior citizens in the Arbor Rose Memory Care Homes, where most of the residents suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Volunteers can interact with the seniors by making holiday–themed arts and craft projects for an hour.

Beth Gillespie, director of the office of civic engagement and volunteerism, said it is a great way to not only help encourage the senior citizens, but it can be chance to learn from their experiences.

“It is just a really easy way to brighten up someone else’s day,” Gillespie said. “People who are struggling with Alzheimer’s and dementia can’t remember what happened this morning or what they did yesterday, but they can remember things that happened a long time ago, so it just a really good chance to ask them about their family or ask them about their career because until the very last stages of Alzheimer’s and dementia, (memories) are very clear and very easy to talk about.”

Students are encouraged to register now for the next activity time with seniors in Arbor Rose held February 16.

Students can also participate in the same craft activity with seniors in the Life’s Journey Senior Living Facility in Mattoon.

Peace Meals is another chance for students to help serve senior citizens in nursing homes by helping prep and manage the salad bar. Students can participate on February 15.

“As our students age and mature, you start to realize how valuable your grandparents are and how limited your time may be with them,” Gillespie said. “I think seniors need and deserve that kindness and compassion for the life they have lived, the days they filled, the wisdom that they have and wanting a chance to learn from them.”

Kalyn Hayslett can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].